'Teach your girls to stab, not sing': Right-wing activism, public knife distribution and the politics of gendered self-defense in Mumbai

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This ethnographic essay studies the politics of gender that emerged around a women’s self-defense initiative developed by an extremist right-wing party in Mumbai. This campaign involved the public distribution of modified kitchen knives as arms for poor women cadres. Implementing the program in the context of the controversial “India rape crisis,” the party stated that underprivileged women workers, who battled the threat of rape and sexual harassment while negotiating public spaces, must intimidate and stab predators with these knives, which were especially designed for poor women’s moral and physical protection. My interdisciplinary analysis investigates the ways in which this nationalist knife crusade temporarily reconstructed gendered texts on women’s use and access of public space, by placing itself strategically at the intersection of urban and gendered paranoid performances (which I develop here as “urbanoid enactments”). Through an analysis of mythohistorical, material, and moral cultures that are intimately associated with a global urban paranoia about women’s sexual vulnerability to unwanted male migrant bodies in the public sphere, I argue that such nationalist gimmicks inform a contemporary political debate about strategic right-wing endorsements and their proximate relationships with women’s imagination of migration, mobility, and bodily freedoms in the commercial city.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSigns
Volume44
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)743-770
ISSN0097-9740
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

ID: 188454869